College football coaches haven’t had the best of luck recently making the jump to the NFL. Jimmy Johnson was one of the few who enjoyed a solid run at the professional level. The former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins head coach knows what it takes to get the job done. Unfortunately for Urban Meyer, he’s not cut from the same cloth.
Johnson suggests there’s a big difference between leading college athletes and NFL players.
Jimmy Johnson reveals the biggest difference between coaching college vs. the NFL
Jimmy Johnson spent 10 years as a college football head coach, five seasons at Oklahoma State and five at the University of Miami (FL).
The majority of Johnson’s success came during his tenure at Miami. He posted a 52-9 career record in five seasons. He also led the Hurricanes to five straight bowl game appearances and a national championship victory in 1987.
The Texas native took over the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. He posted 1-15 and 7-9 records in his first two NFL seasons, respectively. Johnson ended up leading Dallas to three straight seasons with 11 or more and two Super Bowl wins.
The Fox NFL analyst joined The Dan Patrick Show to discuss Urban Meyer’s firing and what it takes to succeed as an NFL coach.
“There’s not a world of difference,” he said. “There’s a galaxy of difference. It’s hard to evaluate a college coach going into pro football. In college, you’re a mentor, a father figure. They’re young kids that left home for the first time in their lives. You end up spending half your time counseling them.”
Johnson suggests the NFL is an entirely different beast.
“In professional football, they’re grown men working for a living,” he added. “They have a job. How well you do depends on how much money they’re going to make. They’re a little more skeptical than an 18-year-old kid.”
Jacksonville Jaguars players were skeptical of Meyer, which ultimately led to his downfall.
Urban Meyer failed to adapt to the pro level
Like Jimmy Johnson, Urban Meyer put together an impressive resume as a college football head coach.
Meyer posted a stellar 187-32 career record with stints at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State. He reached a bowl game in all but three seasons and won three national championships.
Meyer’s collegiate success led to him getting looks in the NFL. Shad Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, gave the former Ohio State coach a shot.
Jacksonville was a franchise in desperate need of new leadership, so Meyer’s arrival seemed like a breath of fresh air. However, the taste soured pretty early in the 2021 season.
Drama and immaturity marred the former Jags coach’s brief tenure at the helm. To make matters worse, Jacksonville also struggled to find success on the field.
Urban Meyer inherited a team with several holes in its roster. However, no one expected the Jaguars to be a Super Bowl contender. They’re in a clear rebuilding phase. The pressure appeared to be too much for the former college coach to handle, though.
As Jimmy Johnson suggested, the NFL is full of grown men. These players all navigated the college game to get to the league. Meyer failed to realize he’s no longer coaching student-athletes. The head coach must earn respect at the next level.
The Hall of Famer is one of the few who made a successful transition to the NFL
Jimmy Johnson enjoyed a legendary career as a football coach. He succeeded in college football and the NFL. He’s one of the few guys who actually built a sustained career at both levels, though.
Johnson spent 19 years as a head coach between college and the pros. His productivity earned a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Other coaches who successfully transitioned from college to the NFL include Barry Switzer, Pete Carroll, and Jim Harbaugh.
Switzer built a college powerhouse at Oklahoma, posting a 157-29 record over 16 seasons. He spent just four seasons in the NFL but coached the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory in 1995.
Carroll coached at USC for nine seasons, finishing with a 97-19 career record. He led the Trojans to two national championships. Carroll has 16 years of NFL head coaching experience, but his best work has come with the Seattle Seahawks.
Harbaugh enjoyed a solid four seasons at Stanford before taking over the San Francisco 49ers job in 2011. He posted a 44-19 record in the league and made a Super Bowl appearance before returning to college to coach the Michigan Wolverines.
It seems like more college coaches have failed than succeeded in the NFL over the years.
Urban Meyer joins a long list featuring Chip Kelly, Bill O’Brien, Doug Marrone, and Nick Saban.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.